The University of Delhi is known throughout the country as a hub of free thought, expression, and its political culture. However, how does reality influence students who are new to the University?
DU’s existence hinges on conversations. These conversations may take place over multiple cups of Sudama ki Chai or plates of Chola Bhatura from Baba Nagpal or Dosas from D-School (Delhi School of Economics) and take up probably more time from an average student’s life than their classes do. These are more often than not centred around politics, policies, and ideologies, and form an integral part of the political culture that the University is so famous for.
However, this political culture comes with its own contradictions. The idea of free thought that the University is known for isn’t exactly universal, and more or less, the University is an echo-chamber with people who very much want it to remain that way, for reasons of their own.
While the University, in general, is largely right-leaning, as is reflected in the DU Students’ Union Election Results, the intellectual spaces, specifically in the leading colleges and ECA circuits tend to be more dominated by the left. In my personal experience, the former is generally avoidable – their politics generally manifest themselves in the form of intense election campaigning in the month of September but a general dormancy throughout the rest of the year. They also require a huge amount of money and connections to be associated with and are thus generally exclusive. It is the latter which I was more exposed to, not in phases, but consistently throughout my first year which showed me how wrong the perception of DU as space where free thought flourishes is.
Studying in the University and living with its campus teaches you a lot of things, one of them being the act of accepting narratives. It sometimes gives you the privilege of understanding these narratives but never questioning them. These are hammered into you (pun intended) by not only fellow students but also the faculty, creating a situation where the idea of right and wrong become secondary, the primary requirement becoming whether or not you can align with the popular beliefs.
The point of academia is for students to explore and learn and come to a conclusion about what their belief system is. However, DU rarely offers that chance, because it makes you accept certain things, not out of understanding, but out of fear. If you don’t agree with the popular beliefs, you end up being made to feel like an outsider. There is no space for being able to learn where you stand on a spectrum. Sometimes, you’re made to wonder if a spectrum even exists here in the first place.
You’ll see the students of DU constantly calling out the Government for the problems it causes, and rightfully so. However, contrary to popular opinion, this calling out isn’t restricted to those who associate themselves with leftist politics. A lot of people who don’t associate with these politics have been part of protests, have spoken out against oppression against minorities and certain laws. It’s just funny when the people from the liberal-left sphere here call out government’s clamping down on freedom of speech while enforcing the same in the spaces they inhabit. When I approached a student for a discussion on this, they said they do not wish to discuss this even under anonymity- they’re far too apprehensive of such discussions now.
For a side that talks a lot about empathy and building a movement for the oppressed classes, there is a sheer lack of a willingness to engage and to understand where people come from. Instead, you’d see elitism, especially among a lot of the people who have read leftist literature. This elitism manifests itself not only in the form of prejudice against people who are not on their side of the spectrum but also against those who are, under the pretext that they aren’t as well-read and are imperfect leftists.
The tussle here isn’t one between the right and the left, it is between the left and literally any individual who does not subscribe to their ideology. Any school of thought, if allowed to remain unchallenged, becomes toxic in the long run. This is exactly the case with the University, where the students and faculty who subscribe to a particular ideology can go about dictating things as per their whims and the minority that doesn’t agree with them is fearful of even expressing that fact, let alone challenging them.
The environment should be one of discussion and learning, not of mockery and brainwashing. In the country’s best colleges and University, it is increasingly becoming the latter.
(This story is part of a series that aims to understand the influence of the University’s environment on Students’ Political Expression. To read a contrasting article, click here)
Feature Image Credits: DU Beat Archives
Khush Vardhan Dembla